FOR YEARS, ENGINEERS have worked hard on improving cars to make them quieter, smoother and more insulated from the outside world. All admirable targets, except many of us miss the raw, exciting, loud and responsive open sports cars that once existed before comfort overtook character. Yet, here I am, in the back blocks of Sydney's urban sprawl, enjoying exactly all those qualities in the Lotus Elise. This latest 111R edition is just as exciting and energetic as British sports cars of 30 years ago - without their incurable oil leaks, rust and unreliable electrics. The Elise, called Type 111 in Lotus-speak, was first launched 10 years ago, and was the first new Lotus for many years that didn't deviate from Colin Chapman's ideals, embodied in the raw, exhilarating Lotus 7. Calling the Elise a modern classic may be stretching the truth, but it has made a resounding impression on enthusiasts: almost 12,000 have signed cheques for their own Elise since its 1995 launch, and they have a cult following in Hong Kong. The 111R is not made like any other car: its structure is a composite bonded together by epoxy resin adhesive. The adhesive used to bond the Lotus chassis seems strong enough with the body quite rigid with no flexing. Lotus says the bonding of lap joints provides a superior joint to traditionally welded butted joints (with bonded joints, there is no distortion of the material's integrity at the join). Self-piercing rivets further increase the structural integrity through reducing material 'peel' in the most severe of impacts. The chassis received modifications in 2000, including lower, reinforced longitudinal sills to improve access into the cockpit. Which is a good thing, considering how awkward it is to get in and out of the Elise's cabin. It helps if the soft-top roof section is taken off (it unclips and rolls up in a few seconds, and is stored in the boot); otherwise, the most ungainly struggle ensues trying to get the right angle over the very wide sill into the small cabin. Let's just say you will learn your own entry/exit technique for the Lotus with some practice. Once tucked in, the Elise's snug two part-leather composite bucket seats provide a good view over the suede finish dash. The meaty, thick-rim three-spoke steering wheel is great to hold and the billet aluminium pedals are a nice touch - and perfectly positioned for heel-and-toeing. There are two instrument dials that house the speedo and tacho (now showing to 10,000rpm) and have been updated across the Elise range since 2004 with clearer graphics and orange back lighting. Having a raw sports car doesn't mean that you must miss out on modern convenience. While you won't find a large satellite navigation screen or many storage spaces inside the Elise, there is at least a four-speaker Blaupunkt sound system, power windows, central locking and air-conditioning. Lotus tweaked the Eibach coaxial coil springs and Bilstein high-pressure monotube gas dampers for the 111R's wishbone suspension to make the chassis more refined in its responses. The result is a chassis that's stunning around corners. Turn-in response is immediate, particularly at lower speeds, and grip is incredible. There's a limit, of course, and when you reach it the Lotus has the mid-engine handling characteristics that provide an initial understeer that quickly becomes snap oversteer if you're hesitant with the throttle. This car deserves respect at the limit and won't be forgiving of clumsy driving. Braking is strong, but lacks bite on initial application. For such a focused car, the 111R rides smoothly over Sydney's potholed streets, and while the view to the rear is limited, parking the small Targa top Lotus isn't difficult. For the 111R, Lotus got the best powerplant it could at Toyota. The result is Toyota's 2ZZ-GE 1.8-litre four cylinder, 16-valve engine, which is a firecracker of a motor. It's tractable at low speeds yet as raw as a highly strung four-cylinder when revved. Find a spot to open the throttle and you'll be pinned to the seat as the engine spins quickly to 4,000rpm - and then it spins even harder, and more quickly, to the rev buzzer and limiter at about 7,000rpm. It sounds great, too, with the engine just behind your left shoulder. Lotus has tuned the engine using a new, custom-engineered Lotus T4 engine management system. Toyota's VVTL-i system allows the system the flexibility to select the optimum camshaft profile, lift and timing across the full range of engine-operating conditions. The all-aluminium lightweight Toyota C64 six-speed gearbox has a tightly packed set of ratios, and changes are slick, thanks to the stubby shifter. There are few cars that provide such tactile responses as the blisteringly quick Lotus 111R. A few Hong Kong Lotus fans have gone for the Lotus Exige ($625,000), on the premise that they can race it occasionally in Zhuhai. The 111R ($575,000) is the better road car, however. The spoilered Exige is an amazing piece of kit for the track, but it's useless in Hong Kong, unless posing is your game or Zhuhai's your life. The 111R Elise is better to drive for day-to-day corner carving in Hong Kong, with a secret selling point to spouses. Why spend the extra $50,000 on an Exige you probably won't thrash that often on our well-policed roads, when you can enjoy a 111R, and save the extra money for a loved one's Christmas present? The 111R makes more sense at bonus time. It's a more realistic ride for the Mid-Levels, and could mark you out as an intelligent Lotus lover by Easter.